At 6:51 of the second quarter in last night’s 17-12 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Jets lined up for a field goal and the boo birds erupted.
It was 3rd-and-5, and the Jets, who had yet to score a touchdown in the preseason, were going for a field goal (Nick Folk had kicked a 29-yarder in the first quarter). Kicking field goals under near-game conditions is one of the few things in pro football that you can do in practice; nobody learns to kick field goals in exhibition games. No coach goes into a preseason game not knowing how the range if his place kicker.
But you do learn how to score touchdowns in preseason games. Or not. It makes no difference whether you win or lose a preseason football game. The only purpose of the game is to find out what you can and can’t do on offense and defense in circumstances that approximate real games.
Last night the Jets took no steps towards resolving this silly quarterback controversy with Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, throwing them both to the lions – or rather, to the Panthers, who sacked the two of them four times and knocked them down on eight other plays.
In key situations they wimped out — twice in the second quarter (with 4:39 left to go in the half and the ball at Carolina’s 3, they went for a 3-pointer again).
If scoring touchdowns is your problem, why not go for it on 3rd-and-5 on your opponent’s 17 or 3rd-and-3 at your opponent’s 3? If you get it, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. If you get it, the monkey is off your back, at least for a while. And if you don’t get the TD, how much worse off are you?
The fans weren’t just booing because Rex Ryan was taking the easy way out. They were booing because they felt like saps. And they were — the greedy bastards who run the NFL charge fans premium prices for second rate football (and it’s not just the ticket prices; the guy who runs the newsstand in my town, South Orange, has a brother who paid fifty bucks to park). And they get out there to the only game they have any hope of seeing all season, and what does the coach elect to do? He goes for field goals — from the 3-yard line.
All this talk about who can better lead the Jets offense, and what does Ryan do on 3rd-and-5 and 3rd-and-3 (and on 3rd-and-13 in the third quarter)? He takes the ball out of both quarterbacks’ hands and sends in the kicker (not only should the Jets have gone for it on all five field goal attempts, kicker Josh Brown missed one.)
They should never have even punted the ball. What I said about kicking field goals in preseason games also applies to punting: You can practice punting and punt coverage all week in practice. In the game, what you want to do is find out whether you can score touchdowns, and if that’s not what you’re trying to do, why are you playing the game at all? (The reason why they play exhibition games, of course, is that the owners keep all the money from the preseason and don’t have to share it with the players.)
A couple of years ago there was some publicity about a team that hadn’t punted in eleven years, I think it was. In any and all situations, they went for it. The coach’s rationale was “What the heck? What we lose in turning the ball over by never kicking and punting we more than get back by running more plays, gaining more yardage, and keeping the other team’s defense on the field longer.” I’d love to see someone try that at the pro level.
The Jets, for instance, who could certainly use some practice scoring touchdowns.